Over the last several years, I have become increasingly convicted of my own selfishness. My every action and thought focused on myself, my future, my friends, my image, my career, my goals, my money, my opinions, my appearance, and my life. And this is perfectly fine for pretty much everyone that does not claim to be a follower of Jesus, but if I say that I am a follower of Christ who has given Him my life, then this is a problem because my life is no longer my own. It is His.
A few years ago, a friend of mine wrote a blog that has challenged and impacted me to this day. He had just read the Gospel of Matthew and he wrote:
“What I continue to see in these passages and throughout the whole book is this theme of complete and total abandonment for Jesus. Livelihood, plans, future, jobs, family even, Jesus asks for it all. He continually emphasizes that we don’t live for this world — that we should not seek treasures or security or comfort here. There’s this almost stupid invitation in the words Jesus says so often — “Follow Me.” What Jesus is asking in Matthew makes no sense to anyone but those who truly love Jesus. To everyone else, that is too great a sacrifice, too high a price, and appears to be throwing your life straight down the drain — a drain of homelessness, poverty, pain, suffering, strife, even death.”
I never saw myself as a selfish person until I realized just how many things I didn’t want to (and don’t want to) give to God. I like to compartmentalize my faith and have it fit into a nice box where I can take it out on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and then not really have it bother me any other times, but being a Christian is so inconvenient. The Fellows went to hear Paige Brown speak one Wednesday night at West End Community Church and she said, “How often does God contradict you? If He never does, maybe you are serving a God of your own making?” And then this past weekend the Fellows went on an incredible retreat to Memphis where we got to hear a young pastor named Tim Johnson speak and at one point he said, “When was the last time you lost a friend for standing on the Word of God? Is it worth it?” I am not saying that we should be trying to lose friends because we hold so strictly to our views, but I am wrestling with the fact that my faith really doesn’t interfere with my life like Jesus says it should (go read Matthew).
I am too selfish to really give all these things to God for fear that I might not get them back, but selfishness is at the root of it. As I have thought more about it, selfishness (or pride) is really the root of every sin that I can think of. Selfishness caused Adam and Eve to eat the fruit so that they might be like God, selfishness caused David to kill Uriah so that he could marry Bathsheba, selfishness caused Judas to sell out Jesus so that he might get 30 pieces of silver.
I have been thinking a lot on this topic lately and the negative impact of our constant self-focus. I sometimes wonder if much of the anxiety, worry, depression, doubt, self-loathing, and insecurity of my generation isn’t a result of chronic selfishness (Note: I am aware that much if this is actually caused by legitimate medical conditions and imbalances of chemicals in the brain. I am not claiming to speak about such things). Could it be that so many of these problems arise because we are constantly self-assessing, examining, and comparing? Then the result is that we continue focusing on ourselves in the hope of healing ourselves so that we might eventually be content or happy with ourselves. Is it surprising that we find that we are broken when we look at ourselves under this constant microscope? We have become so focused on how we should be, and we take that mindset into the “perfect” presentations that other people attempt to display when they themselves are just as broken. It is no wonder we think we are messed up when our comparisons are the doctored and carefully curated personalities of celebrities and the “Instagram famous.” But really should we be so surprised when we look at ourselves and find that we are broken? I mean isn’t that exactly what the Bible tells us we are? If I am already a deeply flawed person and then on top of that I compare myself to these fake people who only present their best selves, is it any wonder that I get disheartened and discouraged about myself?
But what if our identity could be perfectly summed up in the gospel? What if it presented both a hopeless depravity that humbles us, as well as, a loving Savior who deemed us so precious that He came to die so that we might have life? Tim Keller says, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” In the gospel we can simultaneously see our sobering wickedness and also the infinite worth that we have in the eyes of God. The gospel gives perfect humility and perfect confidence, and we must remind ourselves of its promise daily, lest we forget.
There is absolute security and assurance in this identity. Charles Spurgeon said, “My faith rests not on what I am or shall be, or feel, or know, but in what Christ is, in what He has done, and in what He is now doing for me.” In the same vein, Brennan Manning wrote, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Everything else is illusion.” Finally, the Apostle Paul states, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” See once we are able to see ourselves rightly in the gospel, then every worry and selfish concern falls away, and we are free to follow Christ’s example and give our lives to others and for others, not ashamed of our flaws, but knowing that they are not what define us, but rather the grace that engulfs them.
Of course our flaws and our needs look big when they are the only thing that we ever look at, but if we focus first on God and then live as Christ commands, for Him and for those “neighbors” around us, I wonder if we might find that our problems aren’t so large anymore. Often we think that the solution is to fix ourselves so that we can then go help others, but as sinful people we can never be “fixed” this side of Heaven, and our attempts are often more excuses than anything. Isn’t the whole Bible stories of unhealthy people helping other unhealthy people to become more and more like the perfect God they serve? I wonder if so much of our anxiety and worry and self-hatred would melt away if we just stopped focusing on ourselves so much and instead poured out our lives as a living sacrifice for God to others. An old hymn sums this up awesomely:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
I still struggle with my own selfishness each day, and it continues to be difficult to really give my life to Christ entirely, but the amazing thing is that when we really do give Him everything, He gives so much more back. C.S. Lewis describes this foolish grasping for earthly things, saying, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” It is so hard to forgo the immediate things in front of us, and we selfishly dwell on them and let them control our lives, but the truest and greatest gift ever given is being offered to us and we are too busy looking in our own mirrors to pay attention to the King who says “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
For a significantly better discussion of this topic, please go read The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller.